DIGITAL PEOPLE: From Bionic Humans to Androids

Sidney Perkowitz, Author, Sidney Perkowitz, Author . Joseph Henry $24.95 (248p) ISBN 978-0-309-08987-6

In ancient Greece and on modern drawing boards, humans have dreamt of changing the limits of mortality through androids, robots, automatons and cyborgs. Perkowitz, a professor of physics at Emory University, catalogues our millennia-long fascination in this ambitious book. The author is at his best illuminating the history of artificial life, starting with Talos, the bronze automaton created by Hephaestus in Greek myth, and touching on every fictional work that has shaped the genre. This ranges from R.U.R. (the 1921 play that coined the word robot ) to Asimov's I, Robot , with plenty of room for The Terminator , Robocop and Commander Data . Perkowitz then creates a parallel history of what humans have been able to create, dwelling mostly on prosthetics and 18th-century automatons. The final chapters describe the fascinating robots currently under development, in a manner that reads like a Nova special. The writing is technical, not for the uncommitted reader, and the book bogs down when Perkowitz grapples with the problems of duplicating human perception and self-awareness by artificial means. This is not a philosophical treatise on the nature of the mind-body connection or an engineering manual. Perkowitz fills in the gaps between current knowledge and the philosophical problems posed by advanced artificial life with fantasy-like suppositions, interposing well-accepted philosophical arguments with those that Perkowitz acknowledges have been rejected by the philosophical community. Hence, as a history of humans' fascination with artificial life—both real and fictional—this book is informative. But for a roadmap to the future of robotics, look elsewhere. (On sale May 4)

Reviewed on: 03/01/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
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Paperback - 238 pages - 978-0-309-09619-5
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